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The white-Left Part 1: The two meanings of white

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Are Elizabeth Warren's claims to Native American heritage racist?

Donald Trump bragged about his attacks on Elizabeth Warren before an enthusiastic audience of his sycophants at CPAC today:
“I should've saved the Pocahontas thing for another year because I've destroyed her political career and now I won't get a chance to run against her."
He also attacked the embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for his support for abortion, saying he supports executing newborns.

As Northam's Michael Jackson impersonation, when he was a 25 year old medical school student, is now widely condemned as an example of racist blackface, one wonders how is it that we have come to a place where attempts at racial or ethnic solidarity in youth are seen as examples of racism decades later? This has certainly been the case with Elizabeth Warren. Ever since she became a serious contender for the presidency, she has been castigated and condemned in various political quarters for claiming Native American heritage.

Her detractors say that she falsely represented herself as a Native American to accelerate her rise in the legal profession. This is really a double-edged sword. One edge cuts at Elizabeth Warren by implying that she has obtained her high position by fraud. The other edge cuts at racial and ethnic minorities by implying that they actually have an easier road to success as compared to white candidates. This is demonstrably false. While this Alt-Right mythology masquerades as an attack on Warren, this is actually its sharpest and most dangerous edge because it promotes the white supremacist mythology of a "war on white people."

The Boston Globe put this question to the test in what is probably the definitive piece on this question: Ethnicity not a factor in Elizabeth Warren’s rise in law, by Annie Linskey and the Globe Staff, 01 September 2018. This is how the Globe described this line of attack:
Warren’s political enemies have long pushed a narrative that her unsubstantiated claims of Native American heritage turbocharged her legal career, enabling an unlikely rise from being a commuter college graduate to holding an endowed professorship at the top of the Ivy League.
After the Globe examined hundreds of documents, including many never available before, and interviewed 31 of the professors who had voted on her appointment to Harvard Law, and many others who knew her, they summarized:
In the most exhaustive review undertaken of Elizabeth Warren’s professional history, the Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools. At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.
When she applied to Rutgers Law School in 1972, she answered "no" to the question about whether she was interested in applying for the “Program for Minority Group Students.” Her 1978 application for a position on the University of Houston's law faculty the choices were limited to “black,” “Oriental,” “Mexican-American,” or “other.” She checked "other." While there, she consistently defined herself as "white." The box “white” is checked on personnel forms from 1981, 1985, and 1988. The Globe investigation concluded:
In sum, it is clear that Warren was viewed as a white woman by the hiring committees at every institution that employed her.
However, there can be found in Warren's history places in which she identified herself as a Native American, otherwise this controversy wouldn't exist. The Globe article talks about that too:
Not until she had been teaching at Penn for two years did she authorize the university to change her personnel designation from white to Native American, the records show.
She also listed herself as a Native American at Harvard:
The Globe also reviewed, for the first time, a Harvard University human resources form showing that Warren first listed her ethnicity as Native American nearly five months after she started her tenured position at Harvard and 2½ years after she was there as a visiting professor and first offered the job.
Donald Trump, and the Fox News crowd, want us to believe she got some advantage by claiming to be a minority. Quite the opposite is true. In both cases she used her advantage as a "white" applicant to get the job only to latter "come out" with her Native American identity. As Bruce Mann. Warren's husband of 38 years and also a Harvard Law professor, said "Law faculties hired in their own image." 

When Harvard Law Professor David Wilkins voted to give Warren the job, he was one of five African Americans, out of 66 professors, eligible to vote on faculty appointments. He said:
“Let’s be blunt. Elizabeth Warren is a white woman. She may have some Native American roots, but so do most people.”
He probably got that impression from Harvard Law school dean Robert Clark, who once said of affirmative action:
“This is a university, not a lunch counter in the Deep South.”
When asked about her claims to Native American heritage:
She explained that it was passed on to her as a fact of family lore and that a generation of women in her family were aging, and dying, in the late 1980s. As they faced mortality, Warren said, they focused more on the family’s American Indian ancestry, and the impression stuck with her.

Her grandmother, who shared many stories about ties to the Cherokee and Delaware tribes, died in 1969. Her daughters — Warren’s aunts — then took on the central place in the family. “As the sisters became the matriarchs, they began to talk more about their background and about their mother’s background,” Warren explained.
In her last year at the University of Texas, Warren listed herself in the Association of American Law Schools annual directory as a minority law professor. She was listed that way through eight editions starting in 1987. That same year she got a position at the University of Pennsylvania. Her detractors say it was because she listed herself as a minority by AALS.

Penn was under pressure to recruit minorities, but they didn't see Warren as one. The EEOC statement that had to be filled out when they hired her "concludes that Warren was the best for the job despite being, as they put it, 'white.'" Almost three years after she got the job, she had Penn switch her ethnicity from "white" to "Native American." Warren has said since that she does not remember telling Penn to change her ethnicity on their forms.

BTW, if Elizabeth Warren had been a contemporary of Pocahontas, we can be certain that the one thing she wouldn't have called herself was "white," because there were no white people in Virginia then. Pocahontas was a Native American, daughter of Powhatan. She died in 1617. The application of the label "white" to Europeans didn't happen until near the end of the 17th century, as they started to institute racial slavery. You can read more about that here, and especially on my next post on slavery vs. indentured servitude.  Pocahontas saved an Englishman named John Smith, and then when on to marry an English settler named John Rolfe. Neither of those men called themselves "white" in their lifetimes, and neither would have Warren had she lived back then.

Bacon's Rebellion, 1676 in Virginia
The fraudulent label "white" was created as part of the racial slavery system the colonial capitalists had settled upon to resolve their plantation labor problems. It first showed up in Virginia law in 1691 to define who could not be subjected to slavery. This was long after Jane Rolfe, Pocahontas' granddaughter, died in 1676, the same year that a revolt of united English, English, not "white," and African, not "black," laborers turned Governor Berkeley out of the governor's mansion and accelerated the planters move towards racial slavery. The label "white" was forced on Europeans just as chains were being forced on all Africans. Warren's instinct in rejecting it is laudable, and she has every right to do so. All fair skin people need to stop "passing," reject the racist label "white," and join the people of color. I haven't looked at Warren's DNA to see what she can legitimately call herself, but I know there is no legitimacy in calling oneself "white," and thus claiming for oneself all the positive attributes Sunlight makes intrinsic to that combination of colors. 

Is this struggle really about forcing Warren to identify herself as "white"?

When asked why she identified as Native American, if it wasn't to get ahead, Warren told the Globe it was because, although her legal career was taking off, she felt like she was losing her family:
Warren said she had always identified closely with her mother’s side of the family: a sprawling and rowdy group with scant resources who looked after one another, and who, according to family lore, have Cherokee and Delaware blood.

When her grandmother died in 1969, Warren’s mother and three aunts led the family and further impressed on her their proud Cherokee connection.

Then in the late 1980s, around the time that Warren began identifying professionally as Native American, she began losing them, too. Her aunt Mae Reed Masterson died in October 1989. Her aunt Alice Ann Reed Carnes died in August 1990. That left her mother and her aunt Bess Veneck, (aka Aunt Bee), who lived with Warren and helped her raise her children.
In February 1993, Harvard Law School offered her a job and in July 1995 she started. Records show that they hired her as a white woman, but when the university asked her about her ethnic status in December 1995 she self-identified as a Native American. Internally, Harvard Law School used Warren's changed ethnicity to argue that it was diverse enough, but its hard to see how that helped Warren.

My Great Grandma Aldridge
There are many Americans that believe, or have been told, that they have some American Indian ancestry. I was told by my mother and father that there is some Cherokee blood on my mother's side, but who knows the truth? My brother had his DNA tested and said none was found, so I no longer make that claim, fearing that that some tribal elders may bring me up on charges. But spit tests aside, that is a connection I always felt growing up and was part of our family lore, so I guess you could say its a part of my spiritual DNA. A lot of Americans feel that way, and in many cases it might be true.

I do know that my mother's family was from North Carolina. I've also been told that many of my early ancestors were African Americans enslaved in the Carolinas. But I know some had fair complexion, and I've also been told I have Irish blood. One thing that is certain, no one can deny my African heritage. The slave-owning society that was America not long ago said that a single drop of African blood was sufficient.

In any case, I think there are millions of North Americans with no tribal citizenship who, nevertheless, have strong historic and ancestral ties to the people who first populated this continent. I think they should be proud of that. I think they should shout it from the rooftops. It is one of the ways the Native people and culture have defied the capitalism's attempts to exterminate them.

After it was determined that the Natives could not be turned into slaves in their own land, that labor was imported from Africa, and the indigenous population was marked for extermination by the new "white" masters of this continent. This onslaught was merciless. Slaves have to survive to be useful. The only thing they wanted from the indigenous population was their land. They managed to survive down to this day in two ways: 1) Among the small number of more or less ethnically pure surviving descendants of the tribes, and 2) By allowing themselves to be absorbed into the larger communities and producing off-spring that while no longer ethnically or tribally pure, shared their DNA, and some parts of their heritage with that developing American culture. This accounts for the much larger number that have, or think they have, some native ancestry in their past.
Ferreting out offensive stuff on 30+ old yearbook pages or registration cards, ignoring their record since, and trying to use that to destroy an opposition leader, that's the real WITCH HUNT these days.

If the goal of this campaign has been to force Elizabeth Warren to reaffirm her membership in the "white race," then it would seem they have succeeded. After the blowup around her DNA test, that showed the possibility of some Native American lineage, she repudiated it all, saying in Iowa:
"I am not a person of color. I'm not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry."
That is most definitely true, tribal citizenship is a political question.

Meanwhile the charges of "racism" from the white supremacist Trump camp keep piling up as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Muslim, is accused of Antisemitism, and Kamala Harris is being charged with not being "black enough," because she married a "white" man. Welcome to 2020.

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